The music business has entered the age of the young singer with YouTube and talent shows providing a way for the precocious to market their talents to the world. One unfortunate side effect of this era is that every new male singer who comes along gets tagged with the question, "Is _______ the new Justin Bieber?" Ronan Parke is the latest to be examined with this lens. This comparison is decidedly unfair to Ronan because he should be judged by his own talent, and extremely unfair to Justin because Ronan has a powerful voice that can easily outsing Justin's thin, raspy notes.
The angelic voiced Ronan received rave reviews from five judges on Britain's Got Talent in 2011, including the notoriously critical Simon Cowell. Cowell thought so highly about Ronan that he signed Ronan to his record label, which resulted in this CD. What makes Ronan so special? When Ronan sings, he does everything right. He sings with power and incredible range. He hits nearly every note perfectly (without needing AutoTune), his phrasing is impeccable, and when his voice breaks, it shows how the song's meaning affects Ronan.
He displays tremendous emotions to convey the feelings behind the lyrics. You can feel the pain and heartbreak as he sings "Because of You," the depth of caring and sincerity in the lyrics to "Make You Feel My Love," and the energy of "Feeling Good." When Ronan sings, he BECOMES the song, bringing to mind the early work of Joe Cocker. Before you silently dismiss Ronan as the latest teen idol, be sure to listen to his songs on YouTube. Start with these three performances from BGT, all of which are represented by rerecordings on this CD. Then move to his light-hearted take on "Forget You" in which he energizes 40,000 people at the T4 On the Beach concert. After that, check out his two songs on the QVC promotion, especially the powerful and astonishing "Feeling Good." These performances led this adult to pre-order the CD, showing that his audience goes beyond the "Ronanators" who make up his fan base. By the way, when spending time on YouTube, don't hold his early acoustic performances against him. Why? In some of them, the poor thing looks so exhausted that he can barely keep his eyes open. While the notes are spot on, his singing lacks the zest he demonstrates when he is well rested. These acoustic performances also support the notion that Ronan sings even better in live performances where he feeds off the energy from the audience.
The standout track on the CD is "Feeling Good," from the acapella opening to the sustained closing note, with tasteful instrumental support and backing vocals. If your jaw does not drop from hearing Ronan sing "Feeling Good," then someone should check your pulse to make sure you are alive. My next favorite track on the CD is the energized "Forgot You". Ronan has said that "Fix You" is his favorite song on the album, and one listen shows why. His shimmering vocals convey the deep emotion in the song, as they do tender and beautiful readings of "Songbird" and "Make You Feel My Love."
With this in mind, I struggle with some of the song selections and arrangements on this album. "Because of You" was amazing at BGT and is sung powerfully here, but sounds rushed on the CD, odd for a contemplative song, and his voice is almost drowned out at the end by the background vocals. I never liked the song "A Thousand Miles" with its trite piano fills and stumbling lyrics, but Ronan does sing it far better than Vanessa Carlton and I almost like it now. "Firework" is an irritating song with a chorus that makes my skin craw- aw- awl, and again, he sings it better than Katy Perry, but even he can't save it. However both songs appeal to the teens who are the target audience for this CD. There are two original songs on the album, "We'll Rock the World," frothy bubblegum pop, while admittedly catchy, is just the type of track that could get Ronan typecast as a teen idol, a sure path to a short career. These concerns are more than offset by "Stronger Than I Am," a gorgeous ballad that echoes Rod Stewart's "The First Cut is the Deepest," strong praise indeed. The CD ends with two acoustic tracks, "Edge of Glory," one of those YouTube videos in which he looks tired, and "Firework," in which he is rested and smiling. Neither track works for me, but most people have given them a YouTube thumbs up, so chalk this up to differences in taste.
One final comment: since this album is mostly covers, couldn't they have included 14 or 15 songs? They would easily fit on a CD, and since Ronan's voice will change and change soon, it would be good to record as many songs as possible with the voice he has now. They could still go on his next CD. Suggested tracks would include "Because You Loved Me," the hit for Celine Dion, "It's a Beautiful Day Today" by Moby Grape, and "The Love You Save," by the Jackson 5. This last track would be an excellent choice, since Ronan sings as well as the young Michael Jackson; he really does.